that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
–Ephesians 1:20–21 ESV
In verse 21 we have a clearer description of where Christ is “seated.” He not only is seated “at his right hand in the heavenly places;” he is seated “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”
What is going on here in this verse? The apostle is expressing the super-exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection. The language here is descriptive of the highest possible honor being given to Jesus Christ following his death on the cross by which Christ endured the greatest possible shame. The power of this passage is easily lost on those who are not from an honor-shame culture. Let’s consider in greater detail the meanings of key words:
- “far above all rule”—the Greek word is ‘arche.’ According to Strong’s Concordance, the meaning is: “beginning, origin; the person or thing that commences, the first person or thing in a series, the leader, that by which anything begins to be, the origin, the active cause.” Vine’s says, “Begin, Beginning, Beginner: means ‘a beginning.’ The root arch—primarily indicated what was of worth. Hence the verb archo meant “to be first,” and archon denoted “a ruler.” How interesting that the Bible says, Jesus is “far above” whoever one may imagine has the first or highest place of worth or honor.
- “far above all … authority”—the Greek word is ‘exousia.’ According to Strong’s, the meaning is “the power of authority (influence) and of right (privilege) … the power of rule or government (the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed). So Jesus is far above all power of authority, influence, right and privilege, rule or government.
- “far above all … power”—the Greek word is ‘dynamis.’ According to Strong’s, the meaning is “strength power, ability … inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth … power for performing miracles … moral power and excellence of soul … the power and influence which belong to riches and wealth.
- “far above all … dominion”—the Greek word is ‘kyriotes.’ According to Strong’s, the meaning simply, “dominion, power, lordship.”
From the perspective of the pivotal cultural value of honor and shame, it is helpful to understand that this was a hierarchical society, as opposed to an egalitarian society like the American one. This means that leadership titles—caesar, king, high priest, lord, father, grandfather—were hugely significant. The ascribed honor given to people in high authority was immense. However, for people living in an equality-based society like the West, where people in authority are often viewed with cynicism and even disdain, this idea of great respect and honor for people in places of authority is viewed almost as a weakness, not as a strength. In America especially, we have no king, therefore, we have no social equivalent for kingly rule and royalty.
So to grasp the full weight of Ephesians 1:21, we Westerners and especially, we Americans, must imagine ourselves in a different society—one in which hierarchy trumps equality, and where the currency of honor and shame trumps the currency of money and material things.
What would the first-century readers and hearers of this letter from Paul have thought as they first encountered these verses describing the greatly elevated honor and super-exaltation of Jesus Christ?
Can we imagine the comfort they would feel in knowing that the Lord and Savior residing in their hearts would be sitting at the right hand of the Father—and given a name above all names?
Can we imagine first-century peasants who have forsaken the honor of their own kinship ties—and the vital loss of wealth and honor that went with that—in order to follow Jesus Christ? Can we imagine how the super-exaltation of their Lord more than compensated for their own loss of honor as they ‘drank in’ the honor of being 1) a child of their heavenly Father, and 2) being in Christ by faith, thus, being with their Savior who is sitting at the Father’s right hand? (see Ephesians 2:6).
Is it possible for Western Christians to even begin to feel the relief, the density, the joy—that the glory of the resurrected Christ gave to destitute, honor-starved believers in the first-century Mediterranean world?